KCUR News
5:00 pm
Thu December 30, 2010

Homeless' Burden Eased

Kansas City, Mo. – For years, Downtown Kansas City businesses hated the image of the throng of homeless walking the streets. It hurt attracting conventions. It kept away commerce. Until agencies got together to take daily needs of the desperate to the area where they spent their nights.

KCUR's Dan Verbeck took a fresh look from Fifth and Grand and down into the River Market. As he put it, "men, mostly, no place to live used to be more common around here. They'd walk up from camps along the Missouri, right down there, past these old brick buildings, moving in between sometimes-heavy truck traffic bringing cargo to City Market."
Verbeck found the homeless aren't as visible around the Market District and in downtown Kansas City these days.

One of the reasons is that there used to be what police called the "daily parade", from the shelters on the East side some dozen blocks over to the West where the soup kitchens were. The Downtown Council, reStart and others decided to change that, putting up a daytime emergency services center near 8th and the Paseo.

Outside an off duty cop-hangout cafe , Verbeck met Sean O'Byrne with the Council . Byrne was instrumental in changing the system. As he put it, "If you're homeless and leaving the shelters during the day, the gap in the continuum of care in Kansas City is from 7 am to 7 pm. At the shelter we built you can get a shower, you can get your laundry done, you can see a case worker, you can see a social worker, you can see a doctor, you can see a psychiatrist. You can go down for a warm meal, you can come upstairs and get a housing referral and you can work on getting integrated back into the community."

Byrne went on to say, "We think this is a more humane way to provide these services as opposed to having the services spread out over a hundred sixty five blocks in the Central Business District and searching for these services all day long. Everything that you need to get healthy is there."

" We'll serve about 600 people for lunch and we do over 300 people for services, emergency services throughout the day," Byrne said. He continued observing, "but what it also did was it really separated predator from prey . Those who want to get healthy can get healthy and we help them get healthy. Those who are using the moniker of homelessness for other reasons have got to go, and they've got to work on getting back into society their own way. And what we found is, you're really helping by providing those synergistic services all in one area."

There had been an entreprenurial aspect to soliciting passing drivers for money and where some of the chosen-to-be homeless were running it like a franchise.

Byrne knew all about it, saying, " certainly around the highways there were folks that were using those signs saying they were homeless---and these were the folks I say 'give homeless a bad name'. They're using it for other reasons. And some people would actually lease out the corners. They had it staked out and if you wanted to be at 6th and Broadway, you're going to have to pay so-and-so person, x-amount of dollars or at least a take of what you're bringing in. By working with caseworkers, the human services committee, the City of Kansas City and the police department, we were able to break that up. And so that's not going to fly. That's not right, and it's not good for anybody."

In Byrne's estimation there have been some great success stories over at the Community Services Center, 1444 East 8th Street. The technical name for the center is Emergency Day Services and is operated by restart.

Byrne said you also see a change in the way they interact on a daily basis. Their eyes are clear. They're friendlier. They're outgoing. They realize there's a way out. Byrne sums up with, "there is an answer for this and it's changed a lot of lives."